Kings wary of home letdown vs. high-scoring Leafs
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings returned from their second-longest road trip of the season much the way they departed.
They are still atop the Pacific Division and remain the toughest NHL team to score against, but they will face one of the league's most potent offenses in their first game back Thursday night.
The Toronto Maple Leafs visit Staples Center as the second-highest scoring team in the NHL following their 3-1 victory at the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night. The result ended Toronto's three-game losing streak.
The Maple Leafs (8-5-0) have 50 goals in 13 games, second only to the 53 goals scored by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 13 games.
"We have to take a step forward again (Thursday) against a team that has played very well all year long," Toronto's James van Riemsdyk said. "We've got to be ready to go."
The Maple Leafs moved Patrick Marleau to center against the Ducks, and it paid off with a goal and an assist for the 20-year NHL veteran. Marleau has five goals for Toronto, and coach Mike Babcock said he plans to keep the former San Jose Shark in the middle.
"It's good, we had good balance tonight," Babcock said after the Wednesday win. "We didn't overplay anybody, we're in a back-to-back and three-in-four, so I'm going to leave him in the middle there."
Home teams have long been considered vulnerable their first game back from a long road trip, and Los Angeles coach John Stevens is wary of the possibility after his team concluded a 4-2-0 road trip with a 4-2 loss at St. Louis on Monday.
"You've been on the road for two weeks, and you come home and the tendency is to sit back and take a breath, like, 'Whoo, we're finally off the road.' Stevens told the team's website. "You can't do that. I mean, you've got a really strong team coming in here with Toronto.
"They're on a road trip, they're going to try and play simple. They're going to really come at you hard. There's no room for putting your feet up and trying to relax a little bit."
The Kings (9-2-1) allow an average of two goals a game, fewest of any team in the league. Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick, who has started 10 of 12 games, ranks third in the NHL in save percentage (.942) and is tied for second in goals-against average (1.89).
On offense, the Kings have been boosted by the development of second-year right winger Adrian Kempe, who has six goals and three assists in his past seven games. Kempe had totaled two goals and four assists in his first 30 NHL games dating to last season.
"He's a real competitive guy, and I think his competitiveness has allowed his skill to come out," Stevens said. "We're really happy with how hard he plays. He's been one of our best forecheckers, and he plays really hard along the wall."
Stevens said Kempe plays similarly to Jeff Carter, the team's leading goal-scorer last season who is out indefinitely after sustaining a cut to his leg against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 18.
Stevens has placed Kempe with Carter's former linemates, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
"He's been a good fit there," Stevens said. "Those guys are used to playing with a guy with speed in the middle, and I think those guys have enough experience in the league that they can help a young player like Adrian, and they seemed to have some good chemistry together."
Updated November 2, 2017